An Islamic garden is a garden that has been designed in the typical Islamic style. Most Islamic gardens are found in the oldest Islamic countries, including most countries in the Middle East. They occur in large numbers all along the Mediterranean Sea from Spain to North Africa, however, and have been constructed in many more traditionally Western countries, as well. A Middle Eastern garden is designed to mimic paradise on earth. It is characterized by the central presence of water, usually in a fountain; walls and screens; and leafy greens that provide both aesthetic appeal and shade.
A Middle Eastern gardens began being constructed in the earliest of civilizations, and many Islamic ruins in the present day include details of elaborate garden plots.
A typical Middle Eastern garden is constructed based on the Islamic principles of paradise, peace, and tranquility, and is intended to be a place of reflection away from the world. For this reason, Middle Eastern gardens are sometimes referred to as paradise gardens. Most Islamic gardens sit behind high walls to block out outside noises and influences.
A central tenet of the Middle Eastern garden is the presence of water. The earliest Islamic countries sat in desert climates where water and greenery was scarce. It was the intent of the garden to provide a place of respite from the hot and arid world. Most Middle Eastern gardens contain multiple water pathways that lead to a fountain or system of fountains. Most of the time, these waterways are surrounded by walkways that could be used for reflective meandering or prayerful walks along the water’s edge.
Shade also plays an important role in the reflective quality of a Middle Eastern garden design. With plentiful water, plants that may not otherwise grow in desert climates can thrive. Wide-leafed plants like palms are frequently features of Middle Eastern gardens. Man-made shade, in the forms of archways, intricate screens, and covered sitting areas, are also typical.
Islamic gardens are in many ways meant to intersect with and enhance aspects of the Islamic faith. The gardens’ reflective and meditative aims, as well as their transcendence of worldly concerns, certainly embody this. Traditional Islamic religious symbols are also often frequently included in Islamic gardens. The number 8, for instance, is a major design element of most Middle Eastern gardens. In Islamic religious teachings, 8 is a number associated with paradise.
Symmetry is another design element hearkening back to religious foundations. Most Middle Eastern gardens are designed to be perfectly symmetrical, evoking the Islamic teaching that humans are meant to reflect a God-centered afterlife in their time on earth. Symmetry also calls to mind the Islamic notion that, in paradise, all things hang in a perfect and harmonious balance.
The types of gardens built in the Middle East style have far exceeded the boundaries of the traditionally Islamic world. The Mughal emperors and kings of old were so enchanted by the peaceful aspects of the Islamic garden that they exported many of the central features to the far reaches of their empires.
Most Islamic gardens in India and Persia trace their origins to the Mughals. The Mughal-built, Islamic-style garden outside of the Taj Mahal is perhaps the most well-known example of such a Mughal garden. Middle Eastern gardens today exist in most every country in the world, and elements of Middle Eastern gardening are frequently incorporated into gardens with a more secular purpose.